Child care re­mains an ob­sta­cle

Child care costs not al­ways en­sured for moms up for of­fice

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Lind­say White­hurst and Christina A. Cas­sidy

Women are ex­pected to run for of­fice in high num­bers in 2020, but many face hur­dles pay­ing for child care.

SALT LAKE CITY — When Kim­berly Dudik ran for her fourth term in the Mon­tana House, state of­fi­cials told her she could not use cam­paign money to pay for child care for her four young chil­dren.

She is now run­ning for at­tor­ney gen­eral and is try­ing to visit a big chunk of the sprawl­ing state, spend­ing hours on the road. That means she needs even more help pick­ing up her kids at school and day care when she’s away and her hus­band has a late night at the of­fice.

“It just seems be­hind the times,” said Dudik, whose fam­ily is liv­ing off her hus­band’s in­come and sav­ings from her work as a lawyer. “When it was a man cam­paign­ing, the woman was tra­di­tion­ally the one to stay home and take care of the chil­dren. There is not some­one home just tak­ing care of the kids.”

Ex­perts pre­dict a large num­ber of women will again run for of­fice in 2020 like they did in 2018, and child care re­mains a hur­dle for many of them.

A con­gres­sional can­di­date in New York suc­cess­fully pe­ti­tioned the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion in 2018 to al­low cam­paign money to help cover child care costs. But it ap­plies only to those run­ning for fed­eral of­fice.

That leaves women in many states who are run­ning for the Leg­is­la­ture, statewide po­si­tions like at­tor­ney gen­eral or lo­cal of­fices to find an­other way to pay for child care as they cam­paign, which of­ten re­quires night and week­end work.

Only six states have laws specif­i­cally al­low­ing cam­paign money to be used for child care. Five states are con­sid­er­ing it. In most states, in­clud­ing Mon­tana, the law is silent on the is­sue and up to in­ter­pre­ta­tion by agen­cies or boards. Agen­cies in at least nine states have al­lowed child care to be a cam­paign-re­lated ex­pense, but those de­ci­sions are not law and could be re­versed.

Utah is among the states that passed a gen­der-neu­tral child care ex­pense law, which went into ef­fect last May. Spon­sored by Repub­li­can state Rep. Craig Hall, it eas­ily passed the GOP­dom­i­nated leg­is­la­ture.

Luz Es­camilla was one of the first can­di­dates to use it as she cam­paigned to be­come the first Latina mayor of Salt Lake City. Es­camilla had to take time off from her full-time bank­ing job to knock on doors and shake hands as she made her case to vot­ers.

With­out a pay­check, it was hard to cover the cost of child care for her two youngest daugh­ters. Af­ter the law was passed, she used about $1,500 in cam­paign cash over two months to help pay for it. The ex­tra time she could spend cam­paign­ing helped pro­pel her to a spot in the gen­eral elec­tion, though she lost in Novem­ber.

“Full-time cam­paign­ing dur­ing the sum­mer with tod­dlers, it makes it re­ally dif­fi­cult,” Es­camilla said, adding of the law: “It was a great tool in our tool­box.”

Law­mak­ers in Min­nesota added child care as an al­low­able ex­pense in 2018, while Colorado, New York, New Hamp­shire and Cal­i­for­nia passed laws in 2019.

Be­fore Colorado al­lowed cam­paign cash to be used for child care, Am­ber McReynolds, a for­mer chief elec­tions of­fi­cial in Den­ver, was con­tem­plat­ing a bid for statewide of­fice in 2017. The costs of child care were a con­sid­er­able con­cern as a sin­gle mother of two young chil­dren.

For that and other rea­sons, McReynolds de­cided against run­ning.

“When we look at the sta­tis­tics in terms of rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Congress or statewide of­fice and you don’t see sin­gle moms in that cat­e­gory, that’s why,” said McReynolds, who is CEO of a non­profit. “The cir­cum­stances are just that much more dif­fi­cult when you are in pol­i­tics.”

The pol­icy also can help fa­thers run­ning for of­fice in fam­i­lies where both par­ents work.

Jean Sinz­dak, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Women and Pol­i­tics at Rut­gers Univer­sity, said the record num­ber of women who ran for of­fice in 2018 has helped drive the is­sue. Still, law­mak­ers in a num­ber of states have re­sisted the change.

In Ten­nessee, the spon­sor of a mea­sure to add child care to the list of ap­proved cam­paign ex­penses faced a skep­ti­cal au­di­ence dur­ing a sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing last spring.

“If they aren’t run­ning for of­fice be­cause they can’t find child care, how are they go­ing to do the job down here?” asked state Rep. John Craw­ford, a Repub­li­can from Kingsport, Ten­nessee.

The spon­sor, Demo­cratic state Rep. Ja­son Powell, said he in­tro­duced the pro­posal af­ter peo­ple he tried to re­cruit to run for City Coun­cil in Nashville de­clined be­cause child care needs kept them from cam­paign­ing.

“I hate that peo­ple in our state feel like they can’t run for of­fice be­cause they may or may not be able to use their cam­paign funds for a child care ex­pense,” Powell said.

The mea­sure failed to ad­vance af­ter a split vote of the all-male sub­com­mit­tee.

In Louisiana, Demo­cratic state House can­di­date Morgan La­man­dre had her re­quest de­nied by the state ethics board even though it al­lowed a Repub­li­can man to claim cam­paign-re­lated child care ex­penses in 2000. Mem­bers, who were not on the panel two decades ago and didn’t have to fol­low the pre­vi­ous de­ci­sion, said they were con­cerned it could be abused.

Af­ter a back­lash, the board re­versed it­self.

While she’s used cam­paign funds to pay for child care a few times, La­man­dre said it’s not a panacea for smaller races where can­di­dates might have to choose be­tween pay­ing a babysit­ter or buy­ing ba­sics like lawn signs.

“It’s help­ful, but it’s not a slam-dunk,” she said.

Li­uba Grechen-Shirley, who un­suc­cess­fully ran for Congress on eastern Long Is­land and whose FEC pe­ti­tion led to child care ex­penses be­ing al­lowed for fed­eral can­di­dates, started a group called Vote Mama to help moth­ers run­ning for pub­lic of­fice and hopes one day the ex­pense is al­lowed in ev­ery state.

States now con­sid­er­ing pro­pos­als in­clude New Jersey, Illi­nois, Ohio, Rhode Is­land and Mas­sachusetts.

Caitlin Clark­son Pereira tried a sim­i­lar ap­proach to Grechen-Shirley’s, but ended up su­ing Con­necti­cut af­ter a board de­nied her re­quest. She was told she couldn’t use cam­paign money to pay for child care for her young daugh­ter dur­ing her state House race in 2018, which she ul­ti­mately lost.

Con­necti­cut of­fi­cials cited a pro­gram that al­lows can­di­dates to tap tax­payer money af­ter they raise a cer­tain amount on their own. With pub­lic money in­volved, the state says child care should be con­sid­ered a per­sonal ex­pense.

Pereira ar­gued that it should be con­sid­ered as nec­es­sary as meals or travel.

De­spite an eleven­th­hour push last year by Con­necti­cut Gov. Ned La­mont, law­mak­ers failed to pass the pol­icy.

BRAN­DON CRUZ/LUZ ES­CAMILLA CAM­PAIGN

Utah law­maker and for­mer Salt Lake City may­oral can­di­date Luz Es­camilla, shown with her hus­band and three of her chil­dren, was among the first can­di­dates to use a new Utah law that al­lows cam­paign money to be used for child care.

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